The global bar has condemned the suspension of an Azerbaijani human rights lawyer, saying she is a victim of ‘the relentless persecution of independent lawyers’ by the country’s bar association.   

In an open letter, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) called the suspension and pending disbarment of Shahla Humbatova ‘unambiguously disproportionate’ and ‘arbitrary’. Humbatova was sanctioned for allegedly failing to pay several months’ bar membership fees and on the basis of a complaint from a former client.

Humbatova has defended several high profile Azerbaijani political prisoners and was representing defendants in a case involving allegations of torture and forced confessions when she was suspended. The disciplinary decision means that she is no longer able to work as a defence lawyer.

The IBA’s human rights institute, along with five other human rights organisations, claimed that Azerbaijan’s bar association is ‘notorious for initiating disciplinary proceedings against members who have defended clients in such cases or who speak out about abuses of their clients’ rights in detention’.

It added: ‘Humbatova’s suspension and pending disbarment is the latest sign that the presidium of the Azerbaijani bar is systematically undermining the legal profession…Each new disbarment, suspension, or reprimand serves as a warning to any bar member who is considering human rights work.’ 

The IBAHRI urged Azerbaijan’s bar association to reinstate Humbatova’s licence and those of other lawyers who have been disbarred on 'arbitrary grounds'.